Why 2018 will be a banner year for self-serve kiosks

| by Elliot Maras
Why 2018 will be a banner year for self-serve kiosks

Image courtesy of iStock

With self-service technology gaining acceptance at a rapid pace, providers of self-serve kioks are gearing up for a busy 2018. The last couple of years have witnessed a rising level of consumer acceptance of self-service technology, creating expectations for vigorous investment from retailers, health care providers, restaurants, government, institutions and other user groups.

Mobile commerce and omnichannel retailing are also driving the demand, according to Kiosk Marketplace readers interviewed about expectations for 2018.

While most kiosk deployers, manufacturers, integrators and consultants said they were encouraged by the present condition of the U.S. economy —  which has posted record job creation and an outstanding stock market —  the more important factor is that location decision-makers are more aware of the benefits of self-serve kiosks. 

Customer engagement successes

The last couple of years have witnessed some major successes of self-service technology delivering more personalized shopping experiences.

The Nike By You Studio in New York City allows customers to try on shoes and have them made on the spot in less than 90 minutes via dynamic object tracking,for example.

The Under Armour Virtual Brandhouse in Boston gave Bostonians a preview tour of the store by peering into a headset and taking a tour led by Boston Red Sox favorite Jackie Bradley, Jr. And the Nieman Marcus' "memory" mirror outside of dressing rooms offers a 360-degree view of what the customer is wearing that enables them to share the video in real time with friends for feedback.

"Digital experiences across the landscape have set the bar," Hope Neiman, chief marketing officer at Tillster, a provider of ordering and customer engagement solutions for restaurants, told Kiosk Marketplace.  

Restaurant sector leads

The most-publicized deployments in the past year have been in the restaurant sector, however. While restaurants are not the largest kiosk vertical, commitments from several nationwide chains have created a lot of visibility for the benefits of kiosks, which impacts all verticals. Restaurant deployments in 2017 were led by McDonald's, Wendy's, Long John Silver's, Johnny Rockets, Wow Bao and Eatsa. These brands are expected to continue installations in 2018.

"As it relates to the QSRs, McDonald's started the self-order kiosks, and now many other QSRs are following suit," said Chuck Lewis, director of business development, digital solutions at Elite Manufacturing Technologies, which designed and built the new Long John Silver's outdoor kiosks that are currently being rolled out nationwide.

Meeting those deployment needs could be a challenge for kiosk vendors, but most agreed that it's a good problem to have.

"Our existing customers are continuing to expand, and we have many new customers wanting to take advantage of our platform," Neiman said.

Lewis said he's noticed that in the past quarter companies are less afraid to spend money on digital kiosks.

The well-publicized restaurant deployments have drawn criticism from people concerned about kiosks eliminating jobs, but restaurants were quick to address these concerns.

James Wehner, McDonald's director of global digital experience, told Kiosk Marketplace in June, for example, that staffing levels don't change with kiosk deployments. Staff members get reallocated within the store to serve customers better. Sometimes, he said, the kiosks even lead to more jobs when stores must increase staff to better cope with increased in sales.

Numerous sectors expanding

Other sectors, meanwhile, continue to expand kiosk deployments as well.

Retailers, corporate clients, museums, universities from across the globe are all investing in interactive experiences, said Esther Lombardi, marketing and sales associate at Ideum, a provider of hardware and software for kiosks, digital signage and interactive services.

Lombardi told Kiosk Marketplace there had been a noticeable recognition among clients of the need for professional kiosk development.

"I think customers are becoming more educated," she said. "They're learning what does matter as far as high quality and making sure the product is going to be ‘future proof' as much as possible. We see more and more customers inquiring about integration and how they can make our tables (kiosks) work with their existing devices and software."

"We've had some clients who come to us after they've tried to create their own product and then found it's so much easier to go through a company like ours that provides a polished solution," she said. There has also been a surge of clients using interactive solutions for immersive experiences for their customers.

Ideum continues to pay attention to technologies such as biometrics, virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence, Lombardi said.

"R&D continually checks up on and tests that stuff, and where possible, we've had a number of clients who have shown interest in those devices and we continue to keep an eye on those and integrate them if possible," she said.

Challenges remain

While there is a lot of venture capital available for investment, kiosk projects must prove they can deliver revenue in order to secure funding, according to Bart Foster, a consultant with an extensive history in raising funding for kiosk projects. 

Under Foster's leadership, SoloHealth, a provider of an interactive, wellness screening kiosk for consumers, entered a strategic partnership to utilize Dell's OEM solutions technology, development and deployment expertise in 2012. SoloHealth changed its name to Pursuant Health in 2015. 

The challenge for most kiosk projects seeking funding, according to Foster, who is currently CEO of Sanitas Advisors, is that they are not large enough to deliver the amount of revenue that most venture investors expect. SoloHealth was able to overcome this obstacle by creating strategic partnerships.

Michael Masone, vice president of sales at SlabbKiosks, agreed with Foster about the importance of strategic partnerships in raising support for kiosk deployments.

"I think customers are more willing than in (previous) years to invest or risk their time, space, reputation, and processes in technology that shows an immediate first order impact," he said. "However, customers are as unlikely as ever to write a check to buy themselves the privilege of taking those risks."   

Another challenge for introducing kiosks in many environments, according to Foster, is that the technology requires the support of a number of different departments within an organization — IT, marketing, merchandising, security, privacy, etc. — necessitating a coordinated effort under the direction of someone who understands how all the different areas are affected.

A retailer, for instance, must also understand the operational aspects of the environment and complement it, not create new issues, noted Ron Bowers, senior vice president of retail technology development at Frank Mayer & Associates Inc., which specializes in custom kiosk design.

When introducing self-service technology such as kiosks and Wi-Fi, the retailer must understand what impact it will have on traffic flow, Bowers said. Will bottlenecks be created, for example? Any new solution must improve ease of shopping, not hinder it.

Cash dispensing still strong

While cashless solutions have been gaining favor in many self-service applications, cash is far from dead in the kiosk world.

Charlie Allen, OEM marketing manager for Glory, a global provider of cash technology solutions, is expecting an outstanding year for OEM component parts for financial kiosks as the demand for cash dispensing and recycling expands worldwide.

However, it is not the financial institutions taking the lead in deploying financial kiosks, he noted.

"They've retreated in many instances from those markets," Allen said for banks. "It presents an opportunity for an independent provider to install more kiosks." Many retailers and cash-in-transit businesses are now meeting the demand for cash dispensing and recycling.

"It brings people to their store," he said. "It provides services for the individual in that community being able to get access to their money. They might spend some of it in their (the retailer's) shop."

The push to cashless isn't removing cash from the globe, Allen pointed out. 

"We're on track to have a record year," he said for Glory's OEM business. "We see opportunity around the world." The company is seeing major growth in Sub Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Mexico.

Topics: Augmented Reality, Banks / Financial, Bill Payment Kiosks, Customer Experience, Hardware, Interactive / Touchscreen, Internet of Things, Manufacturers, Mobile Payments, Restaurants, Retail, Software

Companies: Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc., Ideum, Glory, McDonald's, SlabbKiosks, Provision Interactive Technologies

Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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